China’s second-largest energy company Sinopec is calling for more efforts to further the country’s development of green hydrogen, which is produced from renewable energy projects.

Addressing the fourth session of the 13th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, Sinopec president Ma Yongsheng said that China should accelerate the development of a green hydrogen production system — using wind power to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen with an electrolyser — while continuing to make good use of the grey hydrogen produced at refineries as a refining byproduct.

“We should continuously raise the percentage of green hydrogen in hydrogen development,” he said.

Ma’s call was echoed by academicians. Li Chan, an academician of China Academy of Science, also called for China’s energy transition to focus more on the development of green hydrogen through electrolysis powered by renewable resources.

On the one hand, he said the green hydrogen produced from electrolysis can be used as the fuel for fuel cells, but also can mix with carbon dioxide to produce methanol, a liquid fuel that can function as a storage medium for hydrogen.

Du Wanxiang, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said that green hydrogen produced from renewables should be the cornerstone for China’s energy transition because it creates zero emissions, unlike hydrogen production from fossil fuels such as coal and hydrocarbons.

Sinopec's current hydrogen development projects in China mostly rely on the hydrogen byproduct from its massive refining units.

Last year, the company produced 350 tonnes of grey hydrogen gas from refinery units, which accounts for 14% of the national total.

The company is building reforming and naphtha cracking units to process grey hydrogen at its Yanshan petrochemicals complex in Beijing with a production capacity of 2000 cubic metres per hour of uncompressed hydrogen gas.

It is intended for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that will be put into service during the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Shift to green

The company is pushing the shift from producing grey hydrogen to blue hydrogen, which is made from natural gas with most of the carbon captured and stored, and green hydrogen. It is ready to work together with China’s renewable energy developers including GCL on green hydrogen development.

Sinopec has signed a letter of intent with Enze Haihe Fund and Cummins, which is China’s leading power turbine solution provider, to work on projects involving production of hydrogen via electrolysis.

China’s first hydrogen production system via electrolysis through an onshore wind farm is nearing completion in the country’s Hebei province. The energy will help power the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The project has a 10-megawatt electrolyser powered by a 200MW wind farm.

When completed, the project will be able to produce 17.52 million cubic metres per annum of hydrogen. The production facilities could be tied directly to renewable or other non-greenhouse gas-emitting forms of electricity production.

Ma, who is also a CPPCC member, said that since fossil fuel accounts for 84.3% of the total consumption mix last year, China should work hard to make renewable energy the backbone of China’s energy supply in a bid to achieve carbon emission peak in 2030 and carbon neutrality in 2060.

In so doing, China should maximise the application of technology to reduce air pollution from coal and try to convert fossil fuels to chemicals as feedstock for fertilisers while reducing their use as transportation fuels, he said.

China is already the world's top hydrogen producer, with output last year reaching 294 billion cubic metres, bulk of which is grey hydrogen produced from reforming and naphtha cracking units or gas refinery byproducts, according to Ding Zhimin, the former deputy director of the Policy & Law Department of the National Energy Administration.

A recent white paper by the China Hydrogen Energy Alliance says the country's demand for hydrogen will rise to 35 million tonnes in 2030 and will continue to grow until it reaches 60 million tonnes by 2050.

When it reaches that 2050 level it will account for 10% in the energy demand mix. However this is is still below the estimated 18% of hydrogen in the global energy mix by 2050 forecast by the Hydrogen Council, which describes itself as "a global chief executive-led initiative of leading companies with a united vision and long-term ambition for hydrogen to foster the clean energy transition for a better, more resilient future".

The white paper also indicates that by 2050 the number of China’s hydrogen filling stations will rise to 10,000, up from 88 now, with another 149 under different stages of planning or construction. This is the second highest in the world after Japan, which owns and operates 146 hydrogen refilling stations.

Sinopec itself has rolled out an ambitious plan to build 1000 hydrogen gas refilling stations over the next five years.